Introduction | Table of Contents | Chapter 4

The Jews were very familiar with the term, "born of water." Proselyte baptism was considered a rebirth into Judaism. Jesus turned the tables on Nicodemus by telling him that he needed to be reborn into an entirely new humanity or he would never possess the spiritual acuity to see the kingdom of God, much less understand what Jesus was saying to him.

This is a very important distinction and one that Albert Barns makes quite well.

"It may seem remarkable that Nicodemus understood the Saviour literally, when the expression "to be born again" was in common use among the Jews to denote a change from "Gentilism" to "Judaism" by becoming a proselyte by baptism. The word with them meant a change from the state of a pagan to that of a Jew. But they never used it as applicable to a Jew, because they supposed that by his birth every Jew was entitled to all the privileges of the people of God. When, therefore, our Saviour used it of a Jew, when he affirmed its necessity of every man, Nicodemus supposed that there was an absurdity in the doctrine."

The first birth placed everyone, including the Jews, in the first Adam from whom all men receive their carnal nature. The second birth places us into the last Adam, the quickening Spirit, who has made us partakers of the divine nature. Everyone inherits the nature of the first Adam by virtue of natural birth. Those who are born again of incorruptible seed take on the nature of the heavenly Man. "You have been regenerated (born again), not from a mortal origin (seed, sperm), but from one that is immortal by the ever living and lasting Word of God" (1 Peter 1:23 AMP).

Here we see the reasoning behind Jesus' next words to Nicodemus. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." In his present condition as a natural born Jew in Adam, Nicodemus could not see or enter the kingdom of God. Flesh begets flesh and Spirit begets spirit. The natural man, Nicodemus, could not see the things of the because he had no spiritual eyes or spiritual ears to see and hear in that realm.

We see this clearly if we remove the chapter break between chapters two and three of John. Without the chapter break it reads, "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. . ." Chapter three continues, "There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus. . . This man came to Jesus by night . . ."( John 2:23-25, 3:1-2 emphasis added).

Jesus met Nicodemus not as a Jew but as a man. Jesus knew exactly what was in him. Jesus knew that Nicodemus was wrong by nature. He knew that Nicodemus must learn what another self-righteous Pharisee of the Pharisees (Paul) later learned on the road to Damascus. Paul described his life as a man in these terms, "we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV emphasis added). Nicodemus could not see that he was by nature no different than the rest of mankind.

Nicodemus believed Jesus because he saw the signs that He did. He expressed the level of his belief in his opening words to Jesus. "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." It was one thing to believe that Jesus was sent from God and quite another to have the spiritual ability to understand the signs. And so Jesus said in effect, "Just stop right there, Nicodemus! You cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you become an entirely different man, born from above (actually, the Greek here says that we must be procreated by the Father). Unless you are born again it is senseless to go any further. Flesh and blood cannot comprehend the deep things of God."

Nicodemus' response proves how void of spiritual understanding he was. "How can these things be!" He simply didn't have the spiritual faculties to see or enter into a conversation of any depth with the Son of God. Jesus seemed to acknowledge Nicodemus' bewilderment, but added something even more difficult for the natural man to grasp. He described the nature of those who are begotten of the Spirit. "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:1-8 NKJV). God who is Spirit has begotten them and they, by nature, are like Him. "But the spiritual one discerns all things, but he is discerned by no one" (1 Corinthians 2:15 LITV).

"That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." God can only be known after the Spirit. Those who are born of the Spirit are spirit and can only be known spiritually. They cannot be discerned by the natural man because they are not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God. We have a sister in Christ who lives in Texas. When you are talking with her, you never know what she will say next. She thinks and speaks in the Spirit and is totally unpredictable. She drives religious church folks crazy, just like Jesus did, yet those to whom He is speaking through her understand what she shares with them and they are blessed. They who are born of the Spirit are like the wind.

Resisting the Temptation to Christianize the Flesh

Watchman Nee once quipped that you can take a pig out of his wallow and give him a bath and put perfume on him and tie a bow on his head. You can even train him to eat at the table with the family. But one thing is sure, as soon as you leave the door ajar the slightest amount he will bolt out of the house and back into his pig sty and return to his wallow. Why? Because he is still a pig by nature.

We must get it straight once and for all that carnal man can never be anything but flesh. Flesh will always be flesh. We may try to rehabilitate it, wash it up, dress it up all pretty, groom it and present it to God, but it is still what we started out with. It is flesh. Though it might look better, smell better, talk better and even walk better, it is flesh because it was born that way. God rejects it for that reason. He has given up on the flesh and so must we. God has no interest in Christianizing the flesh, and as His children, neither should we.

Charlotte and I (George) have four children. Two of them are born again believers and two of them are not. The temptation to Christianize our two unsaved children who are, quite frankly, only being true to their natures, is very tempting indeed. Through it all God has taught us that the gospel is no longer good news when we use the letter of scripture as a moral rulebook. Jesus didn't come to save the self-righteous, but the lost. The good news is for sinners. The scriptures become condemnation when they stop being the testimony of Jesus and become a codified law-book in the hands of judges.

If unregenerate sinners somehow manage to obey the letter of scripture, at best they would be well-behaved sinners. If they memorized the whole Bible and tried to obey it to the letter, they would more likely become Pharisees than Christians. Nicodemus had the letter of the law and probably had it his whole life. He almost certainly kept the law as well as anyone. What he didn't have was the spiritual wherewithal to see and enter the kingdom of God. For that, you must be born again of the Spirit! You must be created anew! Book learning, no matter how much we have, or how many doctorates in divinity we may posses, will never leap the gap from the mind of the flesh into the mind of the Spirit. You must be a partaker of the divine nature. Attempting to become a Christian and live the Christian life without the Life and nature of God is destined to frustration, failure and condemnation. Attempting to comprehend the things of the Spirit through the faculties of the flesh is impossible.

You cannot put new wine in an old wineskin. You cannot put a patch of new cloth on an old garment, or when it is washed it will shrink and tear the old garment and make it worse than it was before. This is why statistically Evangelical and Pentecostal churches can report millions of "conversions" or "decisions" made for Christ every year, yet all the while their church populations are shrinking. If you make an altar call appeal to the emotions and logic of men, you can get them to "go forward," but the kingdom of heaven is not apprehended by emotion or logic. It comes when you acknowledge to God that you are a lost sinner and you embrace the cross of Christ as your only hope. Out of this comes resurrection life.

We are not engaged in the ministry of Christ when we bring a list of rules and expectations and put them upon the shoulders of men as a condition for God's acceptance. Jesus didn't come saying to the multitudes, "if you will just straighten up God will be happy with you and accept you." He did not bring the expectation and condemnation of the law. Where law and death reigned, He brought life and healing. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). Jesus didn't even accuse a harlot who had been caught in the very act of adultery. The law said she should be stoned, but He said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." He didn't deny the existence of sin, but neither did He enforce the law with its demands and penalties. No, He brought Life and forgiveness. Had Jesus brought the law He would have been obligated to pick up stones with the rest of the religious crowd and stone her to death. But no! "The law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

The ministry of the letter is not the ministry of Life. It is the ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3:7). How cruel is it to put heavy scriptural burdens on the shoulders of anyone who has no spiritual capacity to obey them? Jesus didn't even condemn the religious folks who were willing to stone that woman. Instead He said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." It is unrealistic to expect spiritual behavior from those who are begotten only of flesh. Should we not do as Jesus did and say, "You must be born again"?

Why do we find it so difficult to accept Jesus' verdict on the flesh and stop trying to Christianize it? If we truly understood that "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing" (see John 6:63), we would stop trying to make the old man into a good man. God rejects the best that mankind had to offer. An unregenerate law-keeper is really no better off than an unregenerate prostitute. He might be as pretty as a whitewashed tomb on the outside, but inside occupied by a putrefying dead body. The descendants of Adam, however beautiful, intelligent and socially graced they might be, are begotten of flesh and are still flesh. All are of corruptible seed. Without partiality, all must be re-begotten of the Spirit. In this we see the alpha rule of the new creation. Rebirth begins with the abandonment of all hope in the flesh. Only then can you be begotten of incorruptible Seed.

In Adam or In Christ

By one man (the first Adam) sin came into the world. "Through Adam all die. . .." Through the first Adam, the old creation is hostile to its Creator and in a spiritual sense it is a desolate wasteland. Through One Man (the last Adam) there is a new creation that is made new in the Spirit of God. There is a new race possessing a DNA conformed to the image of Him who created them (See Romans 5). First there was the natural--man was made a living soul; then the spiritual--man was made in the image of a life giving spirit.

If you study the New Testament, you cannot help but notice the repeated reference to these two representative men (the first and the Last Adam) and the people resident in these two. There is no middle ground. Every living human being is either in the old dead Adam or in the living Christ. The sinful nature of Adam works within everyone who is in Adam and leads to death. The righteous nature of the Last Adam, Christ, works within everyone who is in Him, leading to life. Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22 MSG) Paul put it this way in another place: "For, if by the wrongdoing of one [Adam], death was ruling through the one, much more will those to whom has come the wealth of grace and the giving of righteousness, be ruling in life through the one, even Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:17 BBE).

As the representative of a new lineage, Christ had to be tested and proven victorious in every area where the first Adam had failed. He learned obedience through the things that He suffered, and through His proven faithfulness, believers are delivered from sin, failure, suffering, sickness and death into abundant life in the Spirit. Everything was set right by the obedience of the heavenly Man, Jesus Christ. This is not a merely legal or purely conceptual redemption, to be batted around and comprehended only by theologians. No, this salvation requires everyone to repent as sinners needing righteousness and as beggars needing grace. God's gift of grace not only covers our sins, but also empowers us to live above the reach of sin and its consequences (Romans 8: 1-2). Abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness aren't merely given to save us in "the sweet by-and-by." They are given so we can reign in life by One, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17-19).

"All Things Are Of God"

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation; (2 Corinthians 5:17-18 KJ2000)

Now we want to speak to the highest rule of the new creation. T. Austin Sparks called it "The all-inclusive rule of the new creation."

The all-inclusive rule of the new creation is that "all things are of (out from) God." Concerning this fact the Apostle Paul uses the word "but" - "But all things are of God" - as though he would anticipate, intercept, or arrest an impulse to rush away and attempt life or service upon an old creation basis, or with old creation resource. (T. Austin Sparks, A New Creation)

Origin determines everything. All things cannot be new until all things are out from God. This is the genesis rule of the new creation. Nothing is out from us. "Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:9-10 KJV). As Jesus put it, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

We cannot please God out from ourselves any more than we can be our own makers. All things must originate in and proceed from God. He created the universe from nothing, but He can use none of that to remake fallen man. Speaking of Christ, Paul wrote, "And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:17-18 KJ21). The new creation must consist of Christ alone.

We are creatures, created in Christ Jesus. We are God's own workmanship. The cross guarantees that nothing of the old creation can enter into the new creation. That old "I" must be crucified before the words "nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20) become real.

The old covenant and the law served to reveal the failings of Adam's flesh, but they have no place in the new creation. In the old covenant the power to perform (or should we say the lack of it) came from us, shown by the commands, "thou shalt and thou shalt not." In the New Covenant, nothing is of us! Even the works we do were established from before the foundation of the world in Christ Jesus (See Ephesians 2:10). All things are from Him. Mercy and peace pursue those who walk by this rule. Attempting to serve God with Adam's resources will only bring frustration and defeat. You didn't become a Christian by struggling to change yourself, but by believing in Christ and receiving the Spirit of Christ, and even that was not by your choice, but the Father's. Neither do we live the Christian life by agonizing and straining. "As you have received Christ Jesus, so walk in Him." We were born from above by Him and we are to walk by His Spirit alone.

We have been saved by the grace of Jesus and we walk by His grace. Paul makes this point by the use of an impossible scenario.

But the righteousness based on faith says, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) or "'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). (Romans 10:6-7 ESV)

This is the point. These are things that only God can do. It was God who sent his Son into the world and it was He who raised Him from the dead. And it is God who has raised us up together with Christ. All things are from God. That is Faith! That is righteousness! This is the new and living way, not the oldness of the letter that demanded a performance from us. No. In the new creation all things that pertain to life and godliness are supplied in Christ.

We don't partake of Christ through effort. "We are made partakers of Christ" (Hebrews 3:14) by the Father. We don't overcome sin through personal discipline; His life lifts us above the struggle to overcome sin (Romans 7:15-18). "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! . . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (Romans 7:25, 8:1-2 NRS).

The cross guarantees that nothing that doesn't originate in the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes the transition into the new creation. To glory in the cross is to glory in this fact. God desires a new creation that is completely from Him. He wants a new unspoiled man that is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him (Colossians 3:10). This is the all-encompassing rule of the new creation.

Introduction | Table of Contents | Chapter 4

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